Switch-On weekend proves Blackpool is back!

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Three night extravaganza is praised as one of the best yet as more than 20,000 turned out to watch

Blackpool’s showpiece event is back!

Blackpool Illuminations switch on weekend 2014 'Pictured is Dirty Dancing.'30th August 2014

Blackpool Illuminations switch on weekend 2014 'Pictured is Dirty Dancing.'30th August 2014

That was the message from business leaders and traders after this year’s Illuminations Switch-on extravaganza was praised as one of the best.

The event, which extended across three days, saw top acts including Little Mix, Pixie Lott, Union J, stars of the West End and an 90s/’noughties’ night headlined by Rebecca Ferguson, attract more than 20,000 people to the Tower Festival Headlands.

Other events, including a Promenade food festival, helped to swell visitor numbers as organisers of the Switch-On event looked to bounce back from last year’s concert, which was heavily criticised as 
only 5,000 turned out for 
the paid for event.

Shirley Hunt, Friends of the Illuminations member and owner of the Cranstone Hotel in Blackpool, said the Lights were a massive draw to the town and praised the success of this year’s Switch-On festival.

She added: “I spoke to Philip Welsh, the head of marketing at Blackpool Council, and told him this year’s event was absolutely amazing. It was just unbelievable.

“We had the Switch-On, the trams, The Tower, the buses, and landaus – where else could you get such a mix? It was just amazing.

“It (the three night festival) has started a precedent and this might be the way now.

“I had guests in all weekend.They checked out Sunday but stayed in the resort the extra night. From a business point of view the resort must have done really well.

“The extra night gave an extra boost, while the food festival added to the occasion too.

“All in all it was an absolutely fabulous weekend.

“Everybody I spoke to over the weekend and all three nights said it was fantastic.

“I do not think anyone should have anything negative to say.

“The event has brought extra people in at the end of the day.”

But other hoteliers gave a mixed reaction to the Switch-On, with some praising the impact of the Promenade Food Festival and others disappointed by a lack of business.

Adam Lancaster, of the Funky Towers said: “This year for the Switch-On the hotel was fully booked with the same customers that came last year for the event.

“As they were checking out on Monday morning, they booked again for next year’s Switch-On.

“The guests also stayed mostly from Thursday to Monday therefore they could get the best out of the weekend.

“Many guests commented on the food festival and they thought it was a good addition to the weekend, however some traders were not happy with the organisation.

“Additionally, guests suggested improvements such as the stage being better protected against the weather and that seating would’ve been helpful also.

“Overall, the guests enjoyed the weekend greatly with many guests buying the three-day ticket and some added the VIP package which included a meal at the Sands Venue beforehand.

“Guests also went to see other attractions available in Blackpool such as Mamma Mia! at the Opera House and getting the most out of the whole resort.”

But Alex McGlynn, owner of The Aloha Hotel and Rob Tranter, owner of The Baron Hotel both on the Promenade, had different views.

Mr McGlynn said a carnival, to extend the Illuminations Switch–On across a week, could encourage visitors to stay in the resort.

He added: “I have 24 rooms in my hotel and one room was used by people who had come to see the Lights and another was used by people who were working on the food festival in the Spanish section but other than that, there was no new business from the Switch-On weekend.

“In front of my hotel is a 100 ft gap of Illuminations Lights which is at the end of Cocker Square.

“Previously, I have had Lights, such as party poppers, outside the hotel however this year, there are only two strings of white lights which look more like Christmas lights.

“Blackpool Council should put an event on in the middle of the week before the Switch-On weekend such as a carnival to encourage tourists to stay for the week rather than just for the weekend.

“By speaking to the guests who were working at the food festival, they did say that it was a good idea however it was badly organised as each style of food was grouped together making it more difficult to sell their own food which may discourage others to return next year.”

Mr Tranter added Blackpool Council should look to work closer with hoteliers – but said the new format did work: “Blackpool Council don’t communicate.

“We found more out from the guests that were entering the hotel about the Switch-On rather than the information given from the council. A news bulletin should be given once a month to hoteliers to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.

“However, I do prefer the Switch-On to last over the weekend rather than the one day.”

Despite some negativity from hoteliers about marketing, Claire Smith, president of Stay Blackpool, praised the event.

She said: “It was absolutely fabulous.

“I do not think it could have been any better. It all went well. There was a huge crowd and people as far as the eye could see.

“The fireworks off the top of The Tower were spectacular. All the acts were excited to be here, as was Peter Kay. They were genuinely thrilled to be here.

“It was a shame what happened last year with some of the negativity, but the turn around this time was great.

“We need big names for the Switch-On, not just because it is a big event, but to promote the Illuminations season too.”

Dave Daley, landlord of the Central Drive Castle was also quick to praise this year’s event, but added parking needs to be improved ahead of next year.

He added: “It was probably the best Switch-On of recent times.

“The food festival made the area look and feel busy, while my takings were up. There were a few teething problems but all in all around the area we were it was very, very busy.

“The parking was a massive problem. People were coming off Yeadon Way with traffic backing up to the football club.

“That needs to be sorted out. That was the one negative.

“Maybe they need to look at suspending traffic measures for one weekend, particularly with traffic getting into the town centre.

“It is something they need to look at for next year, but the weekend was something to build on.

“Blackpool is back as far as the Illuminations is concerned.”

Coun Graham Cain, cabinet member for tourism and leisure, said he hoped the three-day Switch-On would become an integral part of the resort’s calendar for years to come.

He added: “Overall, we’re extremely pleased with Illuminations Switch-On Weekend.

“By using the Friday night staging, we have been able to put on two amazing nights of live music on Saturday and Sunday which both sold more than 3,000 tickets for each night.

“We also had the very popular food festival – the largest ever staged in Blackpool – which was very well received.

“As always the incredible PR value that switch-on generates alone – from the weeks and days of pre-event coverage to the newspaper, radio and TV coverage of the weekend – makes the investment more than worth it.

“Based on buying equivalent advertising, we estimate that value to be well into the hundreds of thousands of pounds.

“When you couple that with bringing a world class show like Mamma Mia! to Blackpool, the new Blackpool’s Back advertising campaign which has been so successful, the arrival of Illuminasia and the quality of our existing attractions, it really has been a very good year for the town on the tourism front.

“Reverting back to being a non-commercial event has clearly been the right move for Switch-On and we’ve definitely achieved our aim of kicking off the start of illuminations season with a bang.

“The unique seafront setting is also incredible when the weather is kind to us and coupling that with some of the biggest names in British pop and entertainment made for a great weekend.

“We hope the three-day event will become an integral part of Blackpool’s calendar for years to come and the work to plan for another fantastic show for next year will start soon.”